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My Top 5 Sales Book Recommendations

By: Jeff Hoffman

I’m often asked what books I’m reading, or what I recommend as continued learning for sales reps. My favorite sales books are ones that I return to again and again. A mix of sales, business, and marketing books; these are titles I would recommend reps RUN (don’t walk) out to purchase.  

Here’s a condensed list of my top five books sales and why I recommend them! 

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

By Robert Cialdini

This book is written from a non-sales perspective, by a non-sales person. It looks at peoples’ behaviors and why we, as a culture, can be easily persuaded. The author speaks of the seven most common ways that people, processes, and marketing can influence our decisions.

The seven major influence factors are Commitment & Consistency, Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Social Proof, and Liking. The author does a great job of explaining these persuasive paradigms through vivid and easy-to-understand examples.

Why do I like it? And more importantly why do I think all reps should read it?

As sales people, we are rarely given the ideas of psychological sales techniques in such specific and actionable ways. It opens up your eyes into the notion that not only do people’s feelings inspire their action, but actions can be used to inspire feelings. This is an interesting way to think about sales.

For example, as a sales rep, I can sit around and wait for a piece marketing collateral to inspire you to act OR I can take action as the sales rep, and work to create those same feelings to cause a reaction and get you, the prospect, to make a decision.

How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success In Selling

By Frank Bettger

This is one of the two oldest books on this list. It is written by a German immigrant who sold insurance during the depression. Now already, you must be thinking – that’s a hard job. Forget about your difficult territories, timing, etc. THIS was truly a difficult sales position to be in at that time.

The concept of the book is that the trajectory of a deal can be plotted by how well the first interaction goes.

Why Do I like it?

This book reminds us, as salespeople, where to put most of our emphasis. Too often I see the focus shifting from the actual content of the meeting, to KPIs and metrics. We can start to forget just how critical the first meeting is.

This book provides real tactics and actions that sales reps can use to change the first impression in a meeting. It’s a great reminder that the first meeting is often overlooked, and reps should really remember where the true impact of their conversations lie.

How to Win Friends & Influence People

By Dale Carnegie

This was the first book written about sales, so for that alone, this book is important. It is also important because of the fact that so many of the sales cliches you’ve come to know as a rep actually originate from this book. And when you read it, you realize just how pointant they are.

Why Do I Like It?

Sales is about the customer, not the salespeople. The book goes into the basis of that statement. It’s not about what we are doing as salespeople, it’s about how we listen and pay attention to the needs of our buyers and customers. The relationship between the buyer and seller has got to be buyer focused, not seller focused!

And this is a CORE philosophy in the Hoffman approach. Anything we do in our daily sales activity, and everything we teach is based on this principle.

My last two recommendations are actually not sales focused, but marketing focused. Why am I recommending a marketing book to sales reps? Read on to hear me out …

Blue Ocean Strategy

By W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne

The concept of this book is that there are two types of “oceans.” One of the oceans is red; it is red because of the blood in the water from the chum the sharks are feeding on. The red ocean is well-filled with prey and so, it is also filled with predators. The theory here is that you, as a shark, can definitely be fed. But you have to be strong enough to resist the other predators and battle your competition.

The other ocean is the blue ocean. It is blue due to the lack of chum in the water. In this ocean, it is harder to find food to eat, but when you do find it – there is no competition.

Why do I like it?

This book is all about understanding how companies behave in a competitive environment. And although it is a marketing book, it gives a perspective to the rep on the importance of an elevator pitch, and your company’s value proposition. 

This book is helpful for salespeople because it reorients the way you describe your product to the customer. You will learn to approach your messaging so that when you speak to a customer you present yourself as the ONLY company that does what you do – eliminating the competition, ie. the predators.

So while this is a marketing book, from a sales perspective, it is really insightful.

Crossing the Chasm

By Geoffrey A. Moore

This book is a special one, and it’s not for every sales rep. This book is for anyone who is selling into an emerging market, or a disruptive technology.

This is an older book, with an updated version with more recent examples, that is about new companies and technologies. The premise of the book is that for new companies/technologies, the market you earn initial success from is a group of “early adopters.” Your first customer wins are always unique buyers; they don’t mind being the first for a product, and they aren’t afraid to take risks. Most early companies work really hard to find that buyer. The market of early adopters is a very small market. Most importantly, it is only a subset of the greater market you’re trying to get to.

For example, if you are selling a disruptive technology and your territory is Tennessee, you will most likely be working hard and spending resources to close and win FedEx as a client. But once you do, you have to realize that the rest of Tennessee is not going to buy the same way that FedEx bought from you.

Why Do I Like It?

This is the chasm that many reps, organizations and companies fall in to. Sales reps working for growing companies are all of the sudden shocked that the success they had two years ago has almost completely stopped, and they are no longer experiencing even close to the same amount now.

The book illustrates that everything you did to win FedEx as a client, you have to totally re-write for the rest of Tennessee. Growing companies often build their business plan to sell to early adopters, and then consequently run out of early adopters. The machine that is built for early adopters will not work on the bigger market.

This book is truly insightful for sales reps, as they work toward their individual and company goals in a new competitive landscape.

I offer these up as recommended books for every sales rep. I’m very often asked for more, or something new and exciting, fresh and current. I always respond – Sure! …but did you read these? My best advice – read and reread. You only need a handful of good recommendations and these are great.

Happy selling! (and reading)


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- Bret Wilbur, Director of Sales, TriNet

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